Former Filipina diplomat and veteran climate negotiator and current co-chair of the Standing Committee on Finance for UNFCCC.
Bernaditas has been lead negotiator for the Phillipines for many years including during COP 21.
Bernarditas de Castro Muller
The road to Paris started in Montreal, Canada in December 2005, at the first meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, referred to in this paper as the “Convention”). Eight years after its adoption, the Kyoto Protocol finally entered into force when Russia ratified it. However, the United States, one of the biggest emitters of historical emissions, although a signatory to the Protocol, did not submit it for ratification. Canada, as host Government, then initiated a process called “long-term cooperative action” for all Parties to the Convention. It was agreed that this process would not lead to negotiations.
Two years later, in 2007, it did however lead to negotiations under the “Bali Road Map” (COP 13), made up of two parallel negotiating processes. One was the process started in 2005 to negotiate the subsequent, later limited only to the second, commitment periods under the Kyoto Protocol, and the other leading to long-term cooperative action among all Parties to the Convention, with an uncertain “outcome with legal effect”. The understanding was that both the Kyoto Protocol and Convention processes would be finalized together. The Bali COP was also the start of the dismantling of an open, transparent and inclusive multilateral negotiating process.
In 2009, foot dragging by developed country Parties still did not result in agreement on the Kyoto Protocol process, but Annex I (annexes are based on levels of responsibilities for historical emissions) countries’ efforts were concentrated to endorse a “Copenhagen Accord” negotiated by a selected group of countries. It was claimed that the failure of Copenhagen was the failure of the multilateral process, but in reality it is quite the opposite. It was because the multilateral process was not followed that Copenhagen was a dismal failure. After a year, however, the core provisions of the Copenhagen Accord, in particular as concerns climate finance, were integrated into the Cancun Agreements, again a result of an unclear, undefined and limited “consultation” process.
Still another year, in 2011, a process called the Durban Platform, was started, still with an uncertain legal outcome. It marked the start of another, more limited, non-transparent, decision-making process called the “huddle”. At the same time, the Kyoto Protocol, now limited to a “second commitment period”, had to wait another year before the Doha amendment was adopted in 2012, overcoming difficulties among Annex I Parties. The Doha amendment still has not entered into force, as of this writing, and is not likely to do so.
The Durban process went ahead full steam, built on this mountain of broken agreements, and again, through a series of consultations, resulted in the Paris Agreement.
Most of the Western-dominated world media hailed the adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 as a milestone in climate negotiations. The few dissenting voices, mainly from developing countries, were left unheard and unheeded. Responsible minds from both developed and developing world did point out that the Agreement, meant to replace the only legal regime governing climate change, the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol, is still far from providing a viable solution to the increasingly urgent problem of climate change and its adverse effects.
As in Cancun in 2010, the final result was adopted by applause, drowning out the objections of Nicaragua, not even acknowledging its raised flag. But even after going overtime, France did not want anything to block a “success” in Paris. It did however hold up the final meeting to adopt the Agreement to address the objections of the United States over the use of the word “shall” that would imply its agreement to a legally binding requirement on economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets for developed countries. This would mean a “new commitment” that would require US congressional approval for the Agreement, something that would definitely spell the end of a “universal agreement” in Paris. The host country obliged, gaveling through the agreement, and a compliant secretariat lamely admitted a “technical” glitch, albeit a glaring one, on such an important document.
In effect, therefore, there are no enhanced commitments from developed country Parties for further emissions limitations, but developing country Parties were pressured into putting on the table their “intended nationally-determined contributions” (INDCs), many determined with assistance and funding from developed countries with the use of their own consultants.
It was only after extremely difficult discussions that adaptation actions have been accepted as contributions of developing countries. However, these adaptation efforts still need to be recognized “in accordance with modalities to be adopted” by the governing body of the Agreement. Adaptation actions have become imperative for developing countries to enable them to undertake strong mitigation actions but remain woefully underfunded under the Convention, and are likely to remain so under this new Agreement. Practically no links with financing for adaptation feature in the Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement is essentially a compilation of pledges from all Parties to the Convention to limit emissions, and a review of these pledges. The purpose of the Agreement is to hold the increase of global average temperature to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial levels”. Developing countries have held on to the limit of 1.5°C since the negotiations prior to the Paris Agreement process, even as the prospect of ever keeping to this limit dims with each COP. It must likewise be recognized that a “global mean” would imply much higher increases in temperature in different regions, in particular in Africa and the developing world.
Since however, all Parties to the Convention have taken emission limitation commitments, the Paris Agreement is deemed by many to be universal in nature. As of this writing (February 2018), not all Parties to the Convention and signatories to the Paris Agreement have ratified it. Studies have shown that the current pledges are not enough to meet the purpose of the Paris Agreement, and that the pledges of developing countries go far beyond their “fair share” of responsibilities for addressing climate change.
The overall effect of the Paris Agreement is a weakening of commitments of developed country Parties under the Convention, a shift of these commitments to include developing country Parties, without any certainty of predictable and accessible financial resources to developing countries. All of these “national contributions” are then subject to review, previously limited only to developed country Parties under the Convention. There still remains no agreement as to the scope of a “national contribution.”
The Agreement is particularly weakened in terms of the legal obligations of developed country Parties, especially those with the highest responsibilities for historical emissions, on the provision of financial resources, including for the transfer of technology, to developing country Parties. The provision of financial resources have been extended, albeit as a voluntary action, to “other Parties”, and such actions, also voluntarily to be reported accordingly. Developed country Parties “should” continue to take the lead in “mobilizing” finance, “as part of a global effort”, and “from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels.” This is far removed from the legal commitments under the Convention. Accessibility and predictability of financing, essential for long-term climate action, remain the main hurdles for financing for developing countries.
A great majority of developing countries’ NDCs are made conditional on the provision of financial resources, including for technology and capacity-building. This is in full accordance with obligations under the Convention. The Agreement however provides no certainty that these financial resources shall be provided. Objections even were raised by developed country Parties to a clear definition of what constitutes climate finance, leaving them free to call climate financing whatever suits their objectives.
On loss and damage, even while the developing countries’ call for a separate article specifically on this issue was reflected, there remain no links on financing. It was even specified in the accompanying decisions that the Article in the Agreement “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.” A tenuous link to financing is provided in the Article dealing with technology development and transfer, in terms of a periodic assessment of the ”adequacy of support” tempered however by the need likewise to determine its “effectiveness”, a condition of results-based financing practiced by existing multilateral financing institutions.
It is significant that no Annexes exist under the new Agreement. Under the Convention, Annexes are based on the degree of responsibilities for historical emissions that resulted in concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, causing climate change. Only “developed” and “developing” countries are mentioned in the Agreement, for which there is no internationally agreed definition. The way is then open for shifts in the categorization of Parties depending on their “national circumstances”, as may be determined under the Agreement. Despite the reference to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, a core principle of the Convention, differentiation is all but erased under the new Agreement.
There remain possibilities for developing countries to strengthen provisions on financing and technology under the decisions taken by the COP for the period leading for the implementation of the Agreement. Among them are the recognition of needs-based financing, and the start of a process to identify the “qualitative and quantitative information” to be provided by developed country Parties on financial resources to be provided to developing country Parties.” It is then incumbent upon developing countries to identify their financing and technology needs and to translate their NDCs into quantified financial resources and required access to technologies.
These, however, would not suffice. The Paris Agreement is on enhanced implementation of the Convention. We cannot afford to wait until the full implementation of this Agreement to act, and that would be way too late. Each country should continue to undertake strong adaptation and mitigation actions as they have done since the entry into force of the Convention, but now with added urgency. All are affected by an increasing number of extreme weather events. Science tells us that even if all emissions cease immediately, the adverse effects of current changes will still have to be dealt with for decades to come.
What has been sorely lacking in the current dialogue on climate change is a serious pursuit of sustainable development, in particular changes in consumption patterns, and a development pathway that will not repeat the mistakes of the past which led to climate change. Sustainable development is one of the three essential parameters in the objective of the Convention, together with food security and adaptation.
Armed conflicts exacerbate the adverse effects of climate change. Spikes in emissions in the past resulted from world wars. There are no efforts at this time even to recognize and account for emissions arising from the conflicts.
Focusing on the pursuit of renewable sources of energy alone can be likened to a drug addict looking for fixes to feed its addiction. What is more important is to cure the addiction. And as we all know, this is most difficult to achieve.
There are signs that this is happening, mainly from the grassroots, and not from governments and decision-makers. Changes in food consumption patterns, less waste, less use of synthetic materials, and more recycling. Climate actions that have been dictated by uncertain economic assumptions must now look more towards social and environmental dimensions of the problem. For much too long, we were led into thinking that poverty caused environmental degradation. But now we know that it is wealth, and the pursuit of more wealth that is causing our inability to meet the challenge of climate change and its adverse effects.
(I wrote this paper based mainly on my experience gained through long years of negotiating multilateral environmental agreements, especially on climate change. For many of those years, I have listened to Group of 77 countries, as their coordinator on many issues of negotiations, in particular on climate finance. I alone assume the responsibility of what is written in this paper.)